Fortunately, for Tennessee’s sake, there were no unpleasant surprises as the Vols cruised to a 72-43 victory over the Rattlers thanks to a staunch defensive performance and a team-high 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting from John Fulkerson.
Tennessee’s defense was able to hold strong through the early stages of the first half, building a 6-3 lead within the first five minutes of the game. Despite the good defensive play, the offense was struggling, evidenced by the six points scored thus far.
But Fulkerson was able to score on consecutive possessions and then Yves Pons did the exact same to push the lead to 14-3 with a little under 12 minutes to play in the first period. Tennessee’s defense and inside game was getting the job done, and it looked like the Rattlers didn’t have an answer for either one.
That became more apparent as Jordan Bowden found Jalen Johnson for an alley-oop a few plays later. Tennessee now led, 16-3, but the Rattlers finally broke the 14-0 run once Evans Desir hit one of two free throws after being fouled by Pons.
The Rattlers tried their best to keep up. Two Evans layups and a three from Jamir Williams highlighted a 7-3 run to pull within 26-13, but Lamonte Turner hit a free throw soon after to dispel any momentum and put the Vols up, 28-13, with 5:49 left in the first half.
Desir continued to make plays on offense, but the rest of his team wasn’t as effective. To make things worse, Desir picked up his third foul of the game with just 1:18 left in the half, while the Vols also built a 39-18 lead off a 13-5 run to close out the first half.
The Vols were 14/29 (48.3%) from the floor in the first half, compared to 7/18 (39.9%) from the Rattlers. Pons led both teams with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting and six total rebounds, but it was the defense and inside offense that really helped build Tennessee’s lead. The defense forced 12 turnovers, while the Tennessee offense outscored the FAMU offense 24-6 in the paint during the first 20 minutes of the game.
With Desir in foul trouble and no one to stop Pons, the Rattlers seemed hard-pressed to win the game.
Tennessee’s defense continued to hold strong, but the offense really struggled within the first five minutes of the second half. The Vols held the Rattlers to just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, but the Tennessee offense managed just three points on 1-of-4 shooting with four turnovers.
Rick Barnes’ crew still managed to maintain a 42-22 lead with just under 15:00 to play, but there was plenty left to be had in terms of Tennessee’s overall performance.
The offense began to show some signs of life over the next five minutes of the game. The Vols went 2-of-4 from the floor and hit all six free throw attempts, while holding the Rattlers to just 2-of-7 from the floor with three turnovers. The 59-32 Tennessee lead was the largest of the game.
The Vols continued to pour it on, especially when it came to a sick alley-oop from Fulkerson. Davonte Gaines found him in mid-flight as he soared through the air to put the exclamation point on Tennessee’s 61-32 lead with 8:10 left in the game.
But the game was already in cruise control for Tennessee at that point, and the Vols would continue to play effective defense and contribute enough on offense to win the game,
FAMU shot 14-of-42 (33.3%) from the field for the entire game, while Tennessee shot 24/53 (45.3%). The Vols also outscored the Rattlers 40-20 in the paint, which was a major reason why they won the game.
The Vols will get the next week and a half off. Their next game will be against the Memphis Tigers in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, December 14th. Tip-off is scheduled for 3PM EST.